It’s eleven a.m. on a Wednesday when you realize how much your life has changed. A few months ago, you would’ve been rushing into band practice, bass guitar in tow, ready to play peacekeeper between your best friend and a shitty drummer. Already exhausted from waking up too early for class but painfully aware that New Comic Book Day would keep you busy until the store closed at seven. Somewhere in there you might skate with your girlfriend or eat lunch with your boyfriend. That’s what used to happen.
But it’s eleven a.m. on a Wednesday and you already took two pills on an empty stomach. Some would say it’s an improvement - that this math adds up better than the two prescription bottles you used to pretend you could subtract from existence if you just kept them out of sight. You justified it by carrying one Xanax in your pocket for extreme emergencies, completely skipping the Zoloft, but shrugging it all off like you only needed to take something when shit got too bad to handle on your own. Being edgy and easily rattled was better than feeling nothing. That’s how you used to think.
You take your medication now. You don’t even wait to feel uneasy or like a panic attack might happen. You just assume it will. You say you hate how numb it makes you but honestly it’s easier for everyone if you feel empty instead.
Because now you’re waking up next to him but saying goodbye too soon every morning. It’s unfair for him to deal with your meltdowns when you do try to skip the preemptive strike of taking Xanax before anything even happens.
God, you’re just… so, so stupid for thinking you can do this on your own. There’s a reason you were prescribed that shit up to three times a day years ago - why your parents were given a cautionary tale of what could happen if you never tried to get all this under control. Not even giving all those doctors and therapists the silent treatment could hide how badly you need something to ground you, even when your life isn’t turned upside down like it is now.
He almost quit rehab when you kept him awake all night that time, trembling, choking back sobs and blurting out all the insecurities you swore to yourself you’d swallow down forever. It doesn’t matter he changed his mind. It doesn’t matter he’s doing this for you.
All that matters is how different everything is lately and how badly you want "different" to actually mean "better" when the thirty days are over.
Your phone is buzzing but you don’t reach for it, don’t even glance at the lock screen to check how much time has gone by since you started staring up at the ceiling - one void deserves another. You’ve been ignoring texts from your mother. Just like you ignored the alarms telling you to leave for class and work. You’re too tired to deal with the rush of customers. Too tired to deal with much of anything lately.
Life has settled into an unhealthy cycle. Wake up. Cling tight. Say goodbye. Medicate. Maybe eat. Barely function, consider another Xanax. See him again. Struggle through dinner. Wallow in sadness together. Fuck until something feels good, however fleeting. Medicate again to sleep. Repeat.
She’s calling over and over now since you refused to answer the texts. Noelle Bendis isn’t a woman capable of letting shit go. Guess it's time to deal with her, at least, if nothing else.
The ALL CAPS attempt at ending the conversation doesn’t work. She calls again and you can’t get away with the excuse of losing your phone this time. You answer with a sigh and squeeze your eyes shut, prepared for the worst. “Hello?
“You really need to go, Milo,” she says and it scares you how familiar the shake in her voice is. It’s not something you’ve ever heard from her. No, it’s the way you sounded when you told Mat you were worried about him, fingers running slowly through his wet hair on a hotel bed in Seattle. When you finally got him to admit that maybe he wasn’t okay. Maybe he did need help.
And he actually meant it that time. He actually followed through eventually.
That time was different. Nothing like all the promises you’ve made to try harder, to face the noise in your head.
“What if I can’t do it?” You respond finally, biting down on your lip until it stings and you taste blood. “What if I get there and I can’t talk? You know what I’m like. Mat has to order my McNuggets like we’re still five or something.”
She’s quiet for so long that you check if the call has ended before you finally hear her speak again. “Do you know why me and your fuckhead of a father fight about you so much?”
Your stomach twists. You spent most of Bendis Brunch on Mother’s Day poking violently at a stack of pancakes you barely touched while everybody else shared sweet memories from childhood. It wasn’t lost on you that you were the youngest and by the time you were fully coherent, half your siblings had either moved out or barely hung around the house at all.
It was possible they knew a different version of your parents, something you missed by being the baby of the family. Or they saw their tumultuous relationship as a sign of passion. Or they were so rarely the root cause of those arguments that it didn’t affect them the same way.
Regardless, you had spent brunch angry at your father for still showing up to every family event nearly eight years after the divorce and angry at everyone else for not caring how much it obviously bothered you, how your body went stiff when he ruffled your hair, as if some small gesture of affection would change the way he always looked at you.
“Because I’m messed up?” you guess, covering your eyes with your forearm. “Because he’s disappointed in me? I don’t know.”
“Because me and you are the same, Milo.”
You laugh - it comes out before you can stop it. “What? How? You’re not scared of anything and I literally squeeze Mat’s hand so hard sometimes I think I’d break it if I wasn’t… me.”
“You think I’m a Gryffindor but I’m a Hufflepuff, too, kiddo.” Holy fuck, you love her. “I’ve just been around long enough to fake it with shitty coping mechanisms.” She pauses and for the first time in your whole life, you wish you were speaking with someone face to face, that you could hug her close and not let go. “Your dad and I fight because I see myself in you. Maybe he does, too, and that’s why he’s hard on you, I don’t know.”
“Or he’s an asshole.”
“I bet lot of people think Matthew’s an asshole,” she counters and your lips almost twitch up into a smile just because you can hear the affection in her voice when she says his name. “But you’d do anything for him.”
“So… do this. Talk to someone. Stop beating yourself up and feeling like you’re failing him or me or your stupid dad, if that’s a thing, and just… try, okay? Don’t punish yourself because the rest of us made mistakes.”
You hold your breath instead of answering.
“Your appointment is at eleven o’clock. Next week. I’ll send you the address.”
You exhale when what you really want to do is scream.
“I know what it’s like,” she adds, voice softening again, just like when you first picked up. “To want to be different for someone. To be better. At least… at least you’d be doing it for someone who would never give up on you. Mat already looks at you like you’re some kinda fuckin’ miracle. Always has.”
It’s almost noon on a Wednesday when you remember being fifteen and curled up on your bedroom floor when Mat found you, frustrated and fumbling to remove the cap from a prescription bottle. The room was spinning but you still tossed the medication aside, embarrassed you needed his help and convinced you could just ride this panic attack out if you worked really hard at shutting your brain off somehow.
"Dude, I hate this. I hate that he hates how much I can't do anything." You fought off the urge to shrink back when he moved in closer the way you did when anyone else ever tried to touch you. "I'm sick of being defined by all the bad stuff."
"Welcome to the club." The usual charm of his self-deprecation flew right over your head but then this hands held your face and you flinched but you didn't pull away. "Hey, c'mon," he whispered, thumb gently brushing along your clammy skin. "You look like good stuff to me, Milo, but we'll both look better if you keep breathing, okay?"
"Okay, okay," you mumble into the phone, willing your brain to hopefully convince your body that this is all actually possible. "I'll try," you tell her and she clears her throat. "Like... I'll go, okay? For real. For him... I mean, and for me. For both of us. I swear."
Because now you’re waking up next to him and eventually you won't have to say goodbye too soon.